Surgeons to reconstruct face of man injured in fireworks explosion with part of his leg

OKLAHOMA CITY - A Tulsa man severely injured in a fireworks explosion earlier this year is recovering at the OU Medical Center after undergoing a 22-hour surgery to begin reconstructing his face.

Taron Pounds, 22, suffered severe injuries to his face, eye, neck and chest when a fireworks mortar exploded in his face July 7.  The accident occurred as the family gathered to celebrate a wedding in Inola, Okla.

"I didn't even recognize him," said Tammy Cauthron, Pounds' mother, of the first time she saw him in the hospital. "His face was blown off -- the left side gone."

"This really is every parent's nightmare -- to have this much damage to our child. What do dads do? We fix stuff and Dad can't fix this one," said David Cauthron, Pounds' stepfather.

He and his wife fought back tears as they spoke to reporters about the accident.

Pounds initially came to the OU Medical Center as a level one trauma patient and the trauma team set to work saving his life but very quickly additional medical experts joined the team and the focus shifted to beginning to restore what had been lost in the blast.

"Taron lost a lot of bone and tissue.  He is really missing a lot of bone in the left eye area, the nose and the roof of his mouth," said Trinitia Cannon, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist at OU Medical Center and one of the lead surgeons in the marathon surgical effort. "We were able to take bone and skin from his leg, as well as blood vessels that keep that skin alive and we basically reconstruct his face with that."

Two surgical teams worked in concert in the operating room. The first, headed by Cannon, focused their work at the face and neck area, preparing to address the three- to four-inch void left by the blast mid-face. The second team, headed by fellow otolaryngologist Jose Sanclement, M.D., worked harvesting bone and tissue from the leg that would become the building blocks for the reconstruction.

"It's basically a transplant," said Sanclement. "We are transplanting a piece of bone to another place in the body. It is sort of like a puzzle finding the right pieces and then when we have the right pieces, we establish blood supply."

Doctors said the surgery went well, but the initial days after this surgery are critical as they closely monitor blood flow through the transplanted blood vessels to the surgical area. That blood flow is essential to ensuring the transplanted bone and skin survive. 

"Mentally and emotionally, he has a lot of healing to go through," said Cannon.

However, she added that she feels they will be able to obtain an acceptable result for Pounds.

"They're saving his life. They're saving his face. They are saving his dignity," said Tammy Cauthron of the entire OU Medical Center team. "We are so thankful that we came here. The way my son has been treated here. They are phenomenal."

"Taron is not going to be what he was. He is not going to be that picture," said David Cauthron, referring to a framed photo of his stepson before the accident. "But thanks to these people right here, they are building the foundation to get him back to us. How do you say thank you for that."

For Cannon and Sanclement, the joy in helping restore what was stolen from Taron through a tragic twist of fate is thanks enough.

Both stress, however, that the 22-hour surgery that began Friday morning and ended mid-morning Saturday is just the start. It will be followed by other surgeries over the next six months to a year to complete the reconstruction of Taron's face.

"He has come miles and miles," said  Tammy Cauthron of her son's recovery already. "Taron has accepted that he's not going to be exactly what you see in this picture ever again. He's changed inside and out. It's life changing. I know he's a much stronger man because of this. His faith is sealed in concrete."

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